Retail meat prices rose almost 7 percent in 2020 as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changed the economic landscape in the United States. Meatpacking plants were forced to close temporarily during spring and summer of 2020 when workers tested positive for COVID-19, while other plants had to reduce capacity. This disruption led to a drop in U.S. meat production and increased meat prices for U.S households. At the same time, restaurant restrictions put in place during the pandemic shifted consumer purchasing patterns toward more food at home, leading to an increase in the amount of meat households bought from grocery stores.
Using scanner data purchased from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), researchers from USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) compared retail meat prices, expenditures, and the amount purchased in 2020 with those in 2019. Furthermore, the researchers estimated how much households lost in economic well-being (also referred to as welfare in the field of economics) in 2020, compared with 2019, because of the higher meat prices.
From 2019 to 2020, the average retail price paid for meat in the United States increased 6.9 percent on a dollars-per-pound basis. Price changes varied for specific meat types. Beef prices increased the most at 8.9 percent, followed by pork at 5.7 percent, other meats (mainly lamb and mutton) at 5.3 percent, and poultry at 4.9 percent. U.S. households bought 7.2 percent more meat to consume at home in 2020 than they did in 2019. The combination of higher retail prices and larger amounts purchased meant consumers increased their spending on all meat (including for at-home consumption and away from home) by 14.5 percent in 2020.
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